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State’s Football Program Missed The Boat In 2003

July 27, 2010

This morning on the drive into work, Mark and Mike on 620 The Buzz were talking about the Heisman promotional campaign FSU is undertaking on behalf of their quarterback Christian Ponder.

I think it’s great. I don’t think Ponder will win unless a LOT falls right for the Seminoles, but these campaigns are rarely about whether a player stands a good chance to win or not. It’s all about marketing.

Florida State doesn’t need a lot of help marketing its football program. Despite the Seminoles coming back down to earth from their glory days of the 90’s, many folks still view FSU as one of the premier names in college football.

Nevertheless, the folks in Tallahassee aren’t resting on their laurels–they’re leveraging Ponder to get the FSU name back in front of as many eyeballs locally and nationally as possible. They’ve created a slick, interactive website highlighting Ponder’s candidacy and handed out–per Mark and Mike–leather-bound notepads at ACC Kickoff with “CP7” embossed on the cover.

FSU’s marketing team should be applauded. There’s a school that recognizes the marketing value of a Heisman hopeful. If Ponder performs like a Heisman candidate, i.e. the best quarterback in the country, and leads the ‘Noles to a 1- or 2-loss season, the campaign might actually help Ponder climb a spot or two in the voting. But whether Ponder gets an invite to the Downtown Athletic Club or not, the true benefit of the campaign–marketing FSU–will have already been realized.

Kudos to them. I wish I could say the same thing for my alma mater.

N.C. State’s football program carries none of the cache Florida State’s does. It NEEDS all the marketing opportunities it can get. In 2003, a golden one presented itself to our school’s leadership and instead of seizing it, they passed it up.

Philip Rivers, through his first three years, had already begun to make a name for himself nationally when the 2003 arrived. At the end of the 2002 season, the Pack finished with 11 wins and a top-15 ranking, and N.C. State’s football program was beginning to make some noise on the college football scene. 2003 was shaping up to be a banner year for Rivers and for State football, and Rivers entered the season a bona fide Heisman candidate. All State’s football program needed to keep the ball rolling downhill was some more positive momentum; folks across the country would start looking at State football as a real up-and-comer with potential staying power.

Our athletic department, however, missed the boat. Philip was lightly promoted by State as a Heisman hopeful. Yeah, I’m sure the department sent out some trinkets to media folks…maybe a refrigerator magnet or two, or perhaps a highlight DVD. But when you contrast that effort to what the University of Oregon did for Joey Harrington in 2001–a BUILDING-sized billboard draped in Times Square–it pales in comparison.

Harrington’s billboard touted him as “Joey Heisman.” It not only created a lot of buzz for Harrington (who would finish 4th in the Heisman voting that year), it also created a lot of buzz for the Oregon football program.

Ask yourself as one who likely lives here in NC or on the East Coast–how many times had you thought of Oregon football prior to that billboard campaign? If you’re like me, the answer is zero.

But the billboard BECAME the story. It was THERE. You couldn’t miss it. Oregon made sure to place in THE place for Big Boy Marketing, Times Square. It was flawless execution on Oregon’s part.

Granted, Oregon’s financial resources, i.e. Phil Knight, more than dwarf that at State. But if State was SERIOUS about taking that next step into the “big kids pool”–like Chick Amato talked about when he was hired–Rivers provided THE perfect means to do so. The school should’ve leveraged his star power into promoting the program, and an all-out Heisman campaign should’ve been the way to do it.

Gosh, imagine if Rivers had played at Oregon. Do they make billboards the size of the Empire State Building?

Further, setting marketing aside for a moment, we owed it to Rivers to make that type of effort. Forget what the final Heisman ballots showed–I have no doubt in my mind that Rivers was the best quarterback in the country that year. None. His stats that year are astounding. Rivers threw for more touchdowns in 2003 than Ponder has so far in three seasons (34 vs. 29). He led the country in passer rating (170.5) and yards-per-attempt (9.29), a metric of gauging how effective a quarterback is every time he drops back to pass. He only threw seven interceptions in 483 attempts, completed 72% of his passes and finished second to BJ Symons of pass-happy Texas Tech for total yardage thrown (4491).

All that, and yet he didn’t receive an invite to NYC; he finished seventh, behind three other QBs. Interestingly, he finished with 18 first-place votes, fifth-most and more than Darren Sproles and Matt Leinhart who finished ahead of him. What does that tell you? Philip was known locally, not nationally. Those who saw him play KNEW how good he was; plenty of folks elsewhere across the country had no idea.

Want to know Harrington’s line when he finished fourth in the voting in 2001, for comparison sake? 23 TDs,58% comp., 2415 yards, 7.5 yards/attempt, 5 INT/322 attempts. Harrington got an invite to NY.

I can think of no good reason Philip wasn’t sitting on one of those Downtown Athletic Club stools in 2003, other than the piss-poor job State did marketing him. By proxy, N.C. State football would’ve been on display for the nation to see. How much value, in advertising dollars, would it have been worth to State for that hour Rivers would’ve been on stage, showing his highlight package, interviewing him? A million dollars? Two million, maybe three?

Jason White and Eli Manning, both QBs, were there that night and if you want to make yourself sick, compare Philip’s stats with theirs (or Matt Leinhart’s). Philip deserved to be up there, and I believe he would have if State’s marketing would’ve done a better job.

I know most of you are probably tired of hearing the term “marketing” by now. It was a focal concept during State’s AD search, but it should have been. There’re just too many media outlets vying for 21st Century-savvy consumers. ESPN, the internet, sports talk radio–yes, even newspapers (for now). A football program like State’s CANNOT wait for fans and media to come to it. They have to go out and do the legwork of self-promotion crucial to building a successful, viable brand. Minus wins, there aren’t many aspects of a football program that can be leveraged to market on a national level, but a legitimate Heisman hopeful like Rivers most certainly is.

Florida State’s doing their part to maintain their brand. It’s a shame we didn’t do our part back in 2003 to build it when we had the chance.

22 Comments leave one →
  1. matt permalink
    July 27, 2010 12:42 pm

    Spot on.

  2. stevenbtp permalink
    July 27, 2010 2:14 pm

    One of my most cherished pieces of NCSU memorabilia is a poster from Torry Holt’s Heisman campaign. It prominently displays the URL to the website NC State set up for him. And that was in 1998. Absolutely baffling that a similar thing wasn’t done for Philip.

    • July 27, 2010 2:39 pm

      I mean, it’s been seven years so my memory may not be as clear. Perhaps we did more and I don’t recall it. But it really seems unfathomable that we did SO little for him.

  3. Scott permalink
    July 27, 2010 3:50 pm

    there is no “I” in Heisman.

    wait, okay, there is one actually. And if you put breaks in the word, it reads “HE IS [the] MAN”

    where did Ben Roethlisberger finish in the voting that year? and Eli Manning had the name recognition. what did Ole Miss do for him?

    • July 27, 2010 4:10 pm

      Roethlisberger finished 9th, and was robbed. He finished second to Rivers in passer rating and put up the closest numbers to Philip.

      Eli finished 3rd, and though I’m sure Ole Miss did their part, Eli’s last name did most of the heavy lifting in promoting him.

  4. Stuart permalink
    July 27, 2010 8:21 pm

    I do remember there was a website for Philip, but it looked like it had been done in a Freshman web design class.

    Also, if we had had a defensive coordinator, TA didn’t fumble, and Adam Kiker could make a PAT, we would have been 11-1 or 10-2 instead of 7-5 that season.

  5. TruthBKnown Returns permalink
    July 28, 2010 10:42 am

    I had mixed emotions reading this. It brought back the warm, fuzzy feeling I had for a few years knowing Rivers was running the show for NC State football. But it also left me with a little bit of a sad, empty feeling. We let Rivers down. We let the school down. But the worst part is, we let OURSELVES down.

    This is the sad, sick feeling I get in my gut when I think about how NC State’s administration has run things for the last 20-25 years. It’s as if people up top do not WANT to promote NC State. I don’t know how it all works, politically and all, but I can’t help but wonder if some people that are really in control (I mean in NC State’s government) have been doing whatever they can to keep us down. I feel like someone, somewhere, thinks UNC is our flagship university, so they get whatever they want, and we’re left with table scraps. I wonder if the state of NC views the university system as a business, and it makes better “business sense” to have one clear leader (UNC), and everyone else is just a second thought.

    • TruthBKnown Returns permalink
      July 28, 2010 10:49 am


      I guess what I mean is, as far as the state of NC university system is concerned, do they think of it as shooting ourselves in the foot by having two top-tier programs competing for attention? Do those in power prefer to have Carolina be top dog in every way possible, and we’re just a pest interfering with that goal?

      It’s just hard to imagine why we would run things the way we do, if we really wanted to be successful. I have to believe someone at the top is imposing this on us, because otherwise, it doesn’t make much sense that we’d be this bad for this long.

    • July 28, 2010 11:44 am

      TBK, thanks for reading and thanks for the repeated love you show on WRAL’s blog/message boards. Don’t think I haven’t noticed!

      Yeah, we ALL dropped the ball. As one of my friends wondered, perhaps this is part of the reason why Rivers has a distant, if not chilly, relationship with State at the moment. Not that Rivers is a prima dona or anything and looking for the attention, but HE knew he was better than Eli, White and Leinhart. He deserved to be at NYC, and he knew it, and we knew it, and that State put together such a lack-luster effort to promote him had to sting. He’d never admit it, and it’s me projecting how I would feel in his shoes, but it’s a reasonable assumption, I think.

      As to the role of NC Gov’t in our current position, I think you’re starting to wander into conspiracy, lunatic-fringe territory. It’s not as if State doesn’t have grads in the legislature, or that other state schools don’t have grads there, as well. Carolina may have greatest number of law school grads there, but most of UNC’s law school grads come from State, ECU or other schools that would be squashed in your scenario.

      I think it’s simply a case that WE–NC State–have SUCKED at building up US for so long. We’ve got no one else to blame, and I put little stock in theories that the N&O, the state gov’t or anyone else is keeping us down. WE ARE.

      • TruthBKnown Returns permalink
        July 28, 2010 6:47 pm

        Thanks for noticing me — and I try to keep my feet on the ground. I realize I was delving into conspiracy-theory stuff. I don’t want to believe it, but I’m not sure how things work. I do know that sometimes money drives things, even if we don’t want to admit it. I wasn’t thinking about it in financial terms, as opposed to thinking a handful of UNC fans were calling shots, just wanting to help their Tar Heels. I was wondering if maybe the NC university system feels we will do better financially by having ONE top dog, instead of having two competing for top dog. I don’t really believe that’s the way it is, but I have wondered about it before. Carolina is able to pay top salaries for the best coaches, and it seems like State just goes cheap and hopes for the best.

        I guess another thing driving my conspiracy-theory side is the fact that NC State is not an island. We’re one of MANY teams in the UNC system. Technically, we’re really just UNC-Raleigh when you get right down to it. (And I understand at one time they tried to change our name to that, but the alumni wouldn’t hear of it!) So I wonder if we do whatever the UNC system determines is best for the state of NC overall, not necessarily what is best for NC State. I’m not convinced we can do whatever we want, spend whatever we want, in order to be the best we can be. I don’t believe we would be allowed to pay a Roy Williams type of salary. I can’t help it. I believe only the top dog, UNC, can pull that off.

        I want to believe we can do better if we only try. I want to believe we’ve run people out of town that were only concerned about our bottom line, which is actually pretty good from what I understand. But at some point, they need to give the fans a little more return on our investment, and actually TRY to be a winner, rather than do just enough to keep us buying tickets.

        OK, I’ve rambled enough. I’ll try to keep the faith. I am happy with our new chancellor, AD, etc. I just hope we keep the positive momentum going for a while. I feel like State’s is a program ready to shoot to the top. We have the money and the fan support. We just need the administration to do the right things and put us in the best position to succeed!

  6. TruthBKnown Returns permalink
    July 28, 2010 6:58 pm

    “I wasn’t thinking about it in financial terms, as opposed to thinking a handful of UNC fans were calling shots, just wanting to help their Tar Heels.”

    meant to say

    “I was thinking about it in financial terms, as opposed to thinking a handful of UNC fans were calling shots, just wanting to help their Tar Heels.”

  7. ppack3 permalink
    July 30, 2010 2:48 pm

    Truth, Believe it or not, before 1990 we were just as much a ‘Flagship University’ as UNC. Duke was an afterthought. Our Everett Case brought big-time basketball to NC and started the Dixie Classic (which turned into the ACC Tournament). We lost ZERO basketball games in 1973. We won the National Championship, running through the great John Wooden led UCLA Bruins along the way, in 1974. The ’83 Championship still gets play every year, as it’s one of the best Championship Games of all-time, in any sport. We had just as many Championships as UNC, as of 1990. We had two more than Duke. I know I’m talking more about Basketball, but that has been our bread an butter, as a conference, since it’s inception.

    Why have we been horrible for 20 years? A baseless book, and the hype that surrounded it. The Administration didn’t like the fact that the University had been painted in a bad light, and proceeded to move forward in an overly cautious manner. If I had to describe WHY we have been bad/mediocre for the past 20 years then I would say that we have been incredibly over-cautious with coaching hires and NCAA compliance. We hired Les Robinson, specifically to ‘clean up’ a program that wasn’t dirty. We were terrible on the court and okay in the classroom. If anything, UNC and Duke loved Les, because he couldn’t get recruits and he couldn’t hang with them, coaching-wise.

    Herb was also a VERY safe hire. Here’s a Carnegie Melon guy that was never going to be flashy, and would always put academics atop the priority list. At this point, I won’t bash Herb. It wasn’t his fault that he was hired. But the fans had gotten tired of struggling just to compete. His Princeton-like offense depended on a great shooting night, and that style isn’t one that is built to win tournaments. It only took one sub-par shooting game to get knocked out of any given tournament.

    Things have been changing, little by little, since (I believe) the Chuck Amato hire. Amato brought an emphasis to Football along with a flair that was Valvano-esque. I think the good years, with Philip, energized our fan base and brought a renewed expectation for Football and Basketball. I hate that Amato couldn’t sustain success after Philip left (and I think Amato’s firing is the main reason for Philip’s frosty relationship with NC State).

    Nevertheless, we are at a crossroads, right now, in both sports. O’Brien is the FIRST Head Football Coach that we’ve ever hired that has actually been a Head Football Coach at a Division I school before coming to Raleigh. That list includes Lou Holtz and Earl Edwards. That fact doesn’t guarantee success for his tenure, but it sure shows that we have stepped up the quality of the candidates being considered (or more importantly, considering us) to lead the program. If TOB can turn the corner, he could bring great respectability to our Football Program.

    Sid. The Sid hire was a debacle. I think everyone knows that part. But, sometimes, things happen for a reason. If Sid can establish himself and our program back into national relevance, then his hire was a great one, no matter the circumstances.

    With Woodson’s arrival, along with Debbie Yow’s hire, there is a changing of the guard. Sidney Lowe and Debbie Yow both know what our program was like in it’s hay-day. They are both part of that heritage, in a way. Woodson has brought with him a change in attitude from the ‘let’s cash the checks and stay out of the press’ mentality. I really hope that we start to see the NC State that I grew up with, and not the one I suffered through college watching.

    • July 30, 2010 3:14 pm

      Excellent, excellent comments. Thanks so much for stopping by.

  8. ppack3 permalink
    July 30, 2010 3:02 pm

    Oh, and part of the sheepish effort to promote Rivers for the Heisman? I remember there being some media packets that were put together, including a DVD and a mouse-pad. Then, there was the terrible website. But, to be honest, Rivers would’ve been highly considered if we had won 11 games in 2004. You NEVER see guys from mediocre teams being considered for the Heisman. It’s terrible, but true.

    I watched the 2003 NCSU v OSU game the other day (which, by the way, is on TWC. It’s on the Big Ten Network’s On Demand channel, under Ohio State, and is part of a series called Big Ten’s Greatest Games, if I’m not mistaken). I was at that game, and it took me back. It’s hard to recreate our feelings, as a State fan, at that time. The excitement was palpable. Please, watch that game if you can. It’s an OSU/Big 10 production, so all of the interviews are with OSU players and coaches. But, they do a great job with the editing and interviews.

  9. TruthBKnown Returns permalink
    July 30, 2010 3:18 pm

    ppack3, your post makes me feel better about things. I’m old enough to have lived through some of the glory years. I believe our demise has more to do with State’s own administration than anything else. I think the academic side of the university was appalled by what happened under Valvano, and we became our own biggest enemy in an effort to save face (no thanks to a certain local newspaper that was more than happy to print every negative article they could find, regardless of the truth of it). I think that is how it all began, and that resulted in a few bad coaching hires, as well as bad AD hires, the AD’s held on to bad coaches too long, and the downhill spiral was underway. I want to believe we’re clawing our way back out of the muck now, and I think we are. I’m just afraid there are still some key people in high places that aren’t really interested in athletics, just academics. I hope we’ve gotten rid of most of them, and can focus on getting back to athletic respectability.

  10. ppack3 permalink
    July 30, 2010 3:44 pm

    No, Curle, thanks for having me.

    TBK, The media bias is well documented, at least back during the 80’s and 90’s. The Raleigh Times was the NC State friendly paper (defunct in the mid 80’s). These days, the newspaper is an antiquated medium. I think that this is a blessing for us, and a curse for UNC CH. At least, that’s the hope, with the Twitter-gate scandal looming. Sites like SFN are keeping the story on the front pages, nationally, for the duration of the investigation, while providing compilations of ‘evidence’ that cannot be denied. Who needs the N&O, eh?

    I truly believe that we are turning the corner in our arduous climb back into the national spotlight. The efforts to keep our University out of that lime light for so long are simply being overpowered by attrition, retirement, recruiting and coaching/administration changes. The ‘Good ‘ol Boys’ couldn’t last forever. There are conservative people in the administration, and I don’t think that will change. But, there’s ‘Right Wing’ and then there’s a gang of country boys that resist change at all costs. We are, primarily, a red school. But, the tide is changing to a more progressive conservatism. That’s what we needed, and I hope that’s what we got.

  11. ppack3 permalink
    July 30, 2010 4:56 pm

    After all these years, the question that I have is, “What drove Peter Golenback to write ‘Personal Fouls’?” This was a book full of as many inaccuracies as there were accusations. Players that weren’t on campus at the time, were implicated in point shaving incidence. There weren’t any documented cites. The book was simply a work of fiction. Yet, it spurred an NCAA investigation that prompted local (and in turn, national) headlines. The job of Head Coach and Athletic Director (both positions were held by Valvano at the time) became unmanageable. The circumstances weren’t conducive for ‘V’ to continue. He had the media after him. He had the administration after him. The fans didn’t know what to believe.

    There are plenty of stories out there about Valvano and his players. There are conspiracy theories and wagged fingers surrounding this situation, still. The truth is out there. But, there is a truth that is known. The NCAA investigation revealed little that V’s players had done wrong, and NOTHING that Valvano had done wrong! Yet, in 1990, one of the two people that Legend John Wooden once said that he had EVER met, including himself, that were born to coach basketball, Jimmy Valvano, was virtually blacklisted from doing what he loved. Three years later, he passed. I still wonder, ‘What if?’ What if the book wasn’t published? Would Valvano have coached through his disease? Would he have had the support to help pull him through, ala Kay Yow?

    I apologize. when I get on this subject, I tend to get worked up about it. I’ll try to check myself.

  12. matt permalink
    October 17, 2010 9:33 pm

    For the record…NC State did a Heisman site for Philip at and it was featured on with the following caption: “This, folks, is what a Heisman site should look like.”

    He was on the top of the watch list at the beginning of the season and got the publicity and attention he needed. He didn’t win the Heisman because we lost games we should’ve won and the Heisman voting is stupid.

    I’m always up for calling NC State to the carpet for missed opportunities but this simply was not one.

    • matt permalink
      October 17, 2010 9:37 pm

      further…I just noticed the quote below in the link I provided:

      “The family man’s (married, with a child) trophy campaign is no secret, either — the ‘Pack’s publicity machine was already in motion in 2002. “

      • October 18, 2010 9:48 am

        Matt, thanks for those links. I can’t believe I’m the only one who felt like we under-promoted Philip in ’03. Maybe it’s just a natural pessimistic view I have of everything NC State.

  13. matt permalink
    October 18, 2010 10:02 am

    It’s actually a fair assumption that NC State wouldn’t have done enough from a marketing perspective (good lord, they put WOLPFACK on a media guide for gods sake). This just happens to be one of those cases that they did pretty well IMO. Sure, they could’ve put up a billboard in Times Square or have him skydive from the Goodyear blimp or whatever but generally speaking he got the pub he needed.

    for full disclosure…i was involved in this at the time so I’m a bit biased.

    • October 18, 2010 10:27 am

      That’s understandable. You and your group did a good job with the project, no doubt. I just plain forgot about it.

      Do you still work with the University in this same capacity?

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